Democratic challenger Amy Biviano is turning incumbent Republican state Rep. Matt Shea’s road rage case into a campaign issue.
But the mailer that began arriving in Spokane Valley mailboxes over the weekend includes embellished details of the lawmaker’s armed Nov. 23 encounter in downtown Spokane. Complicating matters, Shea includes some misrepresentations of his own in his denouncement of the Biviano attack ad and in other efforts he’s taken to downplay the severity of the encounter.
At issue is the misdemeanor charge of carrying a loaded gun in a vehicle without a concealed weapons permit filed against Shea following a heated exchange stemming from a near collision. In a plea agreement in which Shea acknowledged the accuracy of the police report containing the allegations against him, the charge will be dismissed Jan. 18 if he avoids any further criminal behavior.
The Biviano mailer, however, strongly suggests that Shea pointed the gun at the other motorist even though the victim told police that while he saw the pistol in Shea’s hand, he never saw the barrel pointed at him.
Biviano said Tuesday that she felt it was fair to include in the mailer a large picture of a driver pointing a gun because that’s how the victim initially reported the incident to 911. She stressed that police reports make it clear that the other driver feared for his life.
Shea, responding through social media websites, called Biviano’s mailer a hateful attempt to divide voters.
“Please join me in calling on my opponent and the Democrat Party to stop their politics of hate and division,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “This is Spokane Valley, not Seattle, and we are Americans that should be working together to solve the great crisis facing our nation.”
Shea did not return calls to The Spokesman-Review seeking his comment.
But he, too, appears to have misrepresented the incident when defending himself against criticism. Shea cites details favorable to his position that he claims are contained within police reports of the incident, even though that information is nowhere to be found in the reports prepared by the investigating officers, which were obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the state’s Public Records Act.
‘Afraid for his life’
Two police officers investigated the road rage incident that occurred Nov. 23 and interviewed Shea, Leroy Norris – whom police label the victim – and another witness. All three drivers independently reported the incident to police.
Police reports say that Norris initially reported to 911 that Shea “pointed a gun at him.” That phrase is quoted on Biviano’s campaign mailer on top of a picture of a driver pointing a gun out the window of a vehicle.
But based on interviews police conducted with Norris, it appears unlikely that Shea aimed the gun at him.
Norris reported seeing Shea with a gun, and Shea admitted to officers that he took it out of his glove compartment during the incident.
“Leroy did not believe that the driver of the truck pointed the gun at him at any time,” Reserve Officer Nate Gobble wrote.
However, there are several other instances in the report that indicate that Norris felt threatened when Shea pulled the gun, according to reports filed by the two officers.
“Leroy told me he was not only afraid, but was afraid for his life,” wrote Officer Stephanie Kennedy. “Leroy said the only reason he was driving this aggressive and erratic was to get away from the guy who was chasing him with a gun.”
Police reports indicate that officers initially suspected that Norris, who was driving a Lumina, may have been driving recklessly, but as they found out more, determined that Norris had a legitimate reason to be driving erratically, at least from the point Shea displayed the gun.
They also discovered that Shea didn’t have a concealed weapons permit, as is required in order to have a loaded gun in a car. This summer, Shea’s attorney told The Spokesman-Review that Shea’s gun wasn’t loaded.
But Shea signed his name in a court document in December under a statement that said that “defendant stipulates to the accuracy and admissibility of the police reports.” Police reports indicate that the gun was loaded. Kennedy showed Shea the law and discussed it with him, the police reports say.
“After, we verbally discussed having a loaded hand gun in his vehicle, with no concealed weapons permit and how Matt was in violation of this law,” Kennedy wrote in her report. “Matt never once disputed the violation. He became fearful in the face and had a hard time talking after discussing the violation. His mouth became very dry (cotton mouth), as we discussed it further. It was obvious he was nervous and when he shook my hand after the interview his hand was clammy with sweat, which confirmed my impression of him being nervous/fearful.”
Officers suggested that Shea also face a second charge for displaying a gun in a way that created alarm for the safety of other people.
“This is clearly shown by the victim’s belief it was an emergent necessity to avoid and maneuver around the defendant, and attempt to get away from the defendant, in the manner in which he did,” Kennedy wrote.
The city prosecutor’s office, however, stuck to one charge.
Shea told officers he pulled the gun out of his glove compartment and placed it on his seat. He told police that he felt he was being targeted for his work and said that a year earlier someone shot out the rear window of the car his wife was driving on the freeway.
Blaming the media
Shea has complained about media coverage of the incident. At a gathering last month of the Republicans of Spokane County, Shea said The Spokesman-Review has treated him unfairly.
“They specifically didn’t report that this guy came across four lanes of traffic and that the independent witnesses – two – said that this was unprovoked.”
The police report only includes one independent witness. That witness said Norris was “horribly aggressive, like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
But Kennedy said that witness’s testimony isn’t contradictory since Norris admitted to much of the behavior. She also questioned why Shea continued to follow Norris to 14th Avenue after writing down his license plate number about 10 blocks earlier if he truly was threatened by him.
Shea told the Republicans of Spokane County that Norris tried “to run into the side of my truck. I swerve. He pulls in front of my truck and stops in the middle of traffic and looks like he is getting out. It is a classic scenario where you reach, pull your gun out and prepare to defend yourself and everybody else around you. This is in the police report that the witnesses said that this was unprovoked.”
Norris admitted that he slammed on his brakes in hopes of Shea hitting his car in an effort to disable Shea’s pickup. Norris told police that he did so in an effort to get away after Shea pulled out the gun. Police reports include no language suggesting that Norris appeared to be about to exit his vehicle.
On his Facebook page, Shea lists an unnamed “fourth witness,” who he claims has made a sworn affidavit related to the incident.
That person is not in police reports, and it’s unclear how this witness may have been involved.